One extremely important part of modern warfare is reconnaissance and surveillance. While it might lack the kinetic firepower of fighter jets and artillery, ISR is just as important, if not more important in every aspect of war. Nigeria can spend billions in petrodollars acquiring the most advanced tanks and airplanes, but if you don’t know where your enemy is, it’s completely useless.
The most common category of surveillance aircraft is the airborne warning and patrol plane. These are normal looking civilian aircraft packed with powerful sensors and surveillance equipments.
The primary objective of this aircraft is to detect at long ranges, air and ground threats and provide that information to friendly units light fighter jets and ground artillery.The ability to detect threats at long distances is key, not only so that it can alert friendly units of threats, giving them time to act, but also stay out-of-the-way of superior enemy aircraft.
In a hypothetical scenario, in the events of hostilities, If the ATR-42 MPA spots a flock of Mirage 2000s or Rafale fighter jets, the information given will help any Alpha jets airborne at that moment stay out of the way or avoid contact and needlessly get the plane blown out if the sky and the pilot KIA. The plane have the ability to simultaneously detect and track hundreds of targets and provide that information to other aircraft.
As relations with the Air Force cooled and improved, the Nigerian army has on several occasions used the aircraft is to provide command and control, which means not only providing information on the enemy , but also to help direct friendly aircraft or artillery targets for ground forces and safely direct and manage other units on ground.
Nigeria, seriously deficient in Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) can improve its early warning capability by hundreds of miles in any area rather than rely on ground based radar stations, which because of the curvature of the earth can only detect targets so far away. This means low flying aircraft might not be detected until it’s too late. Putting radar onboard aircrafts, which thanks to its higher attitude can detect targets at much longer distances.
Since the delivery of the first ATR-42 aircraft from Italy in 2010, surveillance aircraft have been used extensively by the Nigerian Navy and Air Force in anti-piracy EEZ surveillance and Counter Insurgency operations.
This aircraft is especially important in Nigeria’s air campaign against Boko Haram in the northeast, where the antiquated piece of junk called the Chengdu F-7Ni fighter and Alpha light attack jet have no modern onboard radar and avionics. Nigerian fighter pilots have instead had to rely on surveillance aircraft to give them target and coordinates which they will then eventually fly out to and identify visually.
Today there are numerous systems and types of ISR platforms in the Nigerian military. Nigeria’s ISR architecture is based upon surveillance planes, helicopters fitted with camera’s and sensors and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and orbital satellites. The most visible and most advanced of these platforms is the Allenia ATR-42 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. The ATR have been operational for close to a decade.
The ability to operate the most advanced ISR platform in Africa is a major advantage for Nigeria regionally. The ATR-42 can carry out both offensive and defensive operations. It can detect and track enemy aircraft and hostile ground forces at up to several hundred kilometres away, giving Nigerian units crucial time needed to dig in defences or attack.
Nigeria also uses a sea based system known as the Falcon Eye surveillance System in concert with the ATR-42 Maritime Patrol Plane and two orbital satellites that has been integrated into most of the military.
In July 2017, the Nigerian Air Force Service Chief Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar met with the management of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA). In his speech the Chief of Air Force Abubakar announced that the NAF is leveraging on an existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NASRDA to fast track collaborative measures to improve the Force’s surveilance capability, rocketry and missiles propulsion systems.
It’s an incredible system that allows units spread through the three branches of the Nigerian Armed Forces, to share data on what they see. This means that if one system detects a threat, every other unit in the area of operation can instantaneously get that information and react, Platforms like the King Air 350i airborne reconnaissance and ATR-42 patrol plane can share everything from images to video and audio feeds, enabling them a full tactical picture of the battlefield.
According to him, new frontiers in surveillance military technology have great impact in the battlefield in which the air force plays a pivotal role. He therefore pushed for initiatives that will improve the ability of air force helicopters and UAVs to seek out target and deliver missiles and rockets from a very long-range.
Mr. Abubakar lamented the fact that some fighter choppers in the inventory of the NAF have to fly as close as 1.5 kilometers to target before firing, saying this is dangerous for the pilot and the aircraft.
Nigeria’s francophone neighbors are not sleeping either. They have similar, allbeit not as advanced systems to Nigeria’s ATR-42 and King Air 350i, that is called Cessna 208. The two single engine planes were officially transferred to the Chadian air force in a ceremony at its base outside the capital N’Djamena on May 2 2018.
The U.S Air Force also sent a training team to Chad to help them understand the system, give advice on exactly on how to utilize the system, training, assisting and the assessing of all communication equipment that has been delivered to form an ISR structure.
The aircraft is fitted with L3 Wescam MX-15 cameras which can support up to six sensors simultaneously, and help with electro-optical and infrared imagery.
Paradoxically Nigeria has Boko Haram to thank for its investment in ISR platforms that has become one of the largest and most sophisticated in Africa. The war has been a testing ground for the Nigerian military, allowing it to fine tune and modify its strategy with lessons learnt in the field.
With advancement in radar technology and battlefield successes Nigeria went on an ISTAR buying bing, procuring platforms that can perform similar roles as well.
In 2014 Nigeria, wary of the possibility of American interference, after the Obama administration blocked an arms deal with Israel and sent an F-15 to intercept a Pakistani cargo plane laden with weapons when it entered Saudi airspace en-route to Nigeria, forcing it to land. Nigeria negotiated and took delivery of five CH-3A attack drones from China and a compliment of AR-1 anti-tank missiles in a secrete deal with China.
DOMESTIC DRONE PRODUCTION
Nigeria should thank the United States for all the arms procurement project that was blocked by the U.S because it invariably forced Nigeria to look eastward where arms are sold without precondition, and also develop its own systems. One of the reasons given by the U.S State Department for blocking Israels transfer of Cobra helicopters was that Nigeria lacks the expertise and infrastructure to operate such a complex aircraft, a stereotyping that has seen the United States losing friends and making enemies.
The Obama White House forgot that the very first satellite imagery of Hurricane Katrina was taken by a Nigerian sattelite and delivered to the U.S for free as far back as 2005.
Nigeria now produces its own UAVs and use them as it please without having to rely on a sole superpower who might use deliveries or spare parts as a political weapon. Nigeria’s defiance in the face of America’s warning against the implementation of the anti-gay legislation came with a terrible price. It destroyed the Goodluck Jonathan presidency.
An economic one-two punch sent the Nigeria spiralling down into its worst economic recession in 35 years following America’s sudden decision to stop buying Nigerian crude Less than a year later Nigeria tested the domestically produced GULMA Tactical UAV. This was followed by a smaller drone named AMEBO at the Nigerian Air Force Institute of Technology for drone pilot training.
In February 2018 the Nigerian Air Force inducted its second indigenous produced unmanned Aerial Vehicle named Tsaigumi. The Tsaigumi was produced by aerospace engineers from the NAF Institute of Technology in collaboration with UAVision of Portugal and will be used for ISR (intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance ) in land and sea domain.